Intrigue on Embassy Row: Former Libyan ‘People’s Bureau’ Goes on the Block

Intrigue on Embassy Row: Former Libyan ‘People’s Bureau’ Goes on the Block

WASHINGTON -- Blame the sign, or the sumptuous location in the heart of what the world's diplomatic capital calls "embassy row." The affair, held on a freezing afternoon in late January, certainly had draw. More than two dozen people, nearly all men and nearly all somewhat dodgy looking in that classic discrete-agent-of-a-foreign-government sort of way, gathered to bid on a hulking, neglected row-house boasting a fabulously curious sign: "BANK AUCTION, FORMER LIBIAN EMBASSY."
<<ad>>
Any auction is bound to make the heart beat fast, regardless of whether the crowd features shady characters from various diplomatic outposts. But when they do drop in for the action, it's certain to be a hell of a lot more fun to watch. And they were there. "Yup, the heavyweights are starting to roll in now," observed one young Arab in a low voice. "The Iranians are here, Greeks, there go the Turks," he whispered, motioning toward two men in thick black overcoats standing in a shadow by the entrance.

Depending on the range of your imagination, the whole scenario was soaked with intrigue. A cloak-and-dagger crowd creaking through dimly lit empty rooms, whose dust-caked floors and cracked plaster walls exuded eerie memories of a time when U.S.-Libyan relations melted down. From the Cold War through the War on Terror, the Libyan presence in Washington has reflected the roller-coaster relations between the two countries.

Sometime in the late 60s -- apparently after a city landlord attempted to drive them from their previous digs across town -- the Libyans relocated to the embassy row building. Around the same time, in September 1969, Col. Moammar Qaddafi seized power and swiftly ordered the Washington embassy and all other Libyan diplomatic outposts be reestablished as "people's bureaus." He sought to create overseas fountains of his revolutionary ideas.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.